Month: November 2001

Diwali Extortion

Diwali Extortion

Three families were returning to the city from a resort in Shahapur village in Thane District after a short Diwali holiday. They were traversing the journey in two cars, when they came across a large group of villagers walking on the narrow road ahead, jamming the way. The area was completely deserted with no civilization in sight. As the first car sounded the horn, the villagers turned around and blocked the road completely with the help of a rather long and thick iron pole they were carrying. Surrounding the car the villagers refused to clear the way. When the driver honked again, two of villagers tapped on the tinted window glass and asked them for money! "Its Diwali, so give us money, else we will not let you go" they seemed to be saying in the local language. The whole situation was frightening, to say the least.

Fortunately the second car which was not far behind, caught up with the first and both cars attempted to move ahead simultaneously. Just at the same time, a local auto rickshaw too approached from the front. Seeing so many vehicles at a time, the "extortionist" villagers were forced to clear the way and the group literally escaped from the clutches of what could have been a difficult situation. Yet, when the willagers had stalled the first car, the occupants admit at having missed a heartbeat. After all, the villagers far out-numbered the group and also carried an iron pole.

Mentally Strong

Mentally Strong

With Diwali season in full swing, a few students of Thane are busy preparing agarbattis (incense sticks), diyas and greeting cards. These students are quite skillful and the wonderful part is that most of the products they create reflect a high quality that makes them worthy of being sold. What’s even more wonderful is that these are mentally challenged students.

St John The Baptist School for Children in Need of Special Care is one such institute that helps mentally retarded children to become as self-sufficient as they can. Apart from teaching them the regular academic curriculum, the institute provides vocational training. Supervisor Maryann Scott displays tremendous love, care and most importantly, patience to take care of her special students while they are taught various skills such as grinding masalas, sewing clothes, painting, making candles, rakhis etc. Of course, for teachers of these students, patience is more than just a virtue – it’s also a qualification that is more important than any academic degree.

A "mentally retarded person" is a highly misunderstood element of our society. Often viewed as derogatory, most people assume that persons with mental retardation are not capable of learning or caring for themselves. However, children with mental retardation can learn a great deal, and as adults can lead at least partially independent lives. Most importantly, they can enjoy their lives just as everyone else.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen says her book Brave New Brain, "Our brains are constantly rewiring themselves so that we very literally change our minds." Yes, with a little help, even the mentally challenged persons have the potential to literally "change their minds" and overcome the difficulties allowing them to grow naturally and develop normal abilities.

Gender Bias
Hijras, who are generally known in the west as hermaphrodites or eunuchs, have been part of the Indian society for thousands of years. According to one estimate there are approximately 1 million Hijras spread across India.

As a minority community, they are condemned and even despised due to their sexual difference. Despite this, traditionally the Hijras have played an important role as entertainers and as owners of curses and blessings. They are also hired to dance at weddings and to celebrate the arrival of newborn babies. Shunted by the society, this is the only source of income left to them.

Lately though, a few Hijras have started resorting force or what can be termed as mild form of extortion, to get money. A recent episode substantiates this trend. Sharanam, a new hotel in the vicinity of RTO, Thane, held its inaugural function on the auspicious day of Dassera. Towards the afternoon, about 20 Hijras found their way to the Hotel. They went past the security guards and surrounded the porch. The guards (who were deputed at the venue by a well-known security agency) looked helpless and some of them were actually terrified of having to deal with Hijras.

When one of the Hotel owners was informed of the scene outside, he personally went to the porch to settle the matter. The Hijras demanded money, on which he offered Rs. 250. They flatly refused saying that they would not budge for less than Rs. 5000. By then a few more Hijras had joined the gang. The Hijras threatened that they will get a few dozen more if they are not given their due for the propitious "blessings" that they have showered on the new venture which, according them, is "nothing less than the Taj".

But the owners of the Hotel were unyielding and did not offer anything more than what they already had and after almost two hours of uproar, the Hijras left with nothing!

Variable compensation optimises company and people performance

Variable compensation optimises company and people performance

After a successful stint in the manufacturing industry, Dipak Gadekar moved to into the IT industry in 1996 when he joined Atos Origin India Pvt Ltd. Atos Origin is the third largest "global IT services" company in Europe, with more than 27000 employees in over 30 countries. Following is the excerpts of the interview facilitated by Manoj Khatri.

The growing trend is that IT firms are adopting a western salary mode, i.e. companies are ensuring that the salaries of senior employees as well as those associated with sales, marketing and other delivery functions become productivity/performance linked. What is your view on this?
With the industry becoming increasingly competitive, it is important to reward performers, if only to retain them. The focus is slowly shifting from rewarding efforts to rewarding results. Variable pay promotes greater transparency throughout the organisation, holding both the management and staff responsible towards each other. This results in increased productivity and effectiveness.

Is this trend likely to intensify?
Variable compensation is here to stay. However, I feel that most companies will embrace this system in phases, with the variable component of the salary going up slowly. The fixed component of the salary will eventually reduce to a level between 50 and 70 percent of the total compensation package. The rest will be performance-linked. The real challenge lies in measuring employee performance correctly by evolving an impartial system of evaluation that is in line with the organisation’s business and culture.

Does your company have a variable pay programme in place? If yes, is this for all employees/functions or only in specific areas?
Recently we introduced variable pay system in our company at all levels in the hierarchy. For the lower and middle management, the variable component has been fixed around 7-10% of the total salary. For senior management, the performance-linked component is as high as 25% of the total salary.

What has been the reaction of the employees to this programme?
The response has been encouraging. In fact, our first initiative towards introducing variable compensation was based on a suggestion from few of our staff members. My contention is that the IT industry is composed mainly of young individuals who are more receptive to performance-linked compensation than their older counterparts.

What benefits do you hope to achieve from a performance linked compensation policy?
The benefits are all encompassing and will affect the entire organisation. Besides improving productivity and efficiency of the staff, we expect an increase in the billing rate per employee. An important intangible benefit comes in the form of higher customer satisfaction. In the IT industry, customer interaction is not limited to just the sales team. The technical team has to work in conjunction with the customer. Customer-Relations is an important feature of any sustainable business model in the IT industry and a performance linked pay will stimulate an overall increase in efficiency and accountability that will have a direct impact on customer satisfaction.

Coming to recruitment trends, has industry slump made it easier to find good candidates at lower salaries?
That is not true. I don’t agree with the general viewpoint that skills are available in plenty. Talented people are still in demand, primarily because the skills they possess are rare. Also, in the current situation, most people are afraid to take the risk that comes with a new job. That’s because, in case of downsizing, the usual tradition followed is that of "last in – first out". As far as salaries are concerned, besides the actual compensation most candidates look for a host of intangible factors before accepting a job offer – this includes reputation of the employer, working environment, growth and learning potential, etc. So, we still need to provide sufficient compensation to attract the right talent.

What changes were made in your organisation to deal with the current industry slowdown?
At Atos Origin we did not need to adopt any extreme changes to our existing HR policies, as we firmly believe in sound management practices. We fine-tune our policies on a regular basis to keep up with the internal as well as external changes. For instance, we have never created or maintained a bench. We do maintain a reserve of employees in areas where major projects are expected. But other than that, we recruit only when there is a need for additional workforce with a certain set of skills. Again, Atos Origin does not believe in downsizing as a rescue measure in times of dwindling business. If we expect the employees to run that extra mile in times of soaring business, we must also retain them during bad times.

Lastly, do you think that IT professionals will continue to be in demand?
The demand for IT is a derived demand. Since virtually all sectors of economy use computers, for the IT industry to do well, the entire economy has to do well. But I am confident that like any other industry, rationalisation will come about sooner than later and the IT industry will stabilise. Well-qualified and talented IT professionals will always be in demand. There is enough opportunity for all of them. Of course the situation will be unlike before when anyone could do a three-month diploma from an unknown private institute and fly to US. Only those with genuine skills will survive.

Heal the world…

Heal the world…

It is said that Prevention is better than cure. From the environment point of view, this translates into "take action today to create a better world tomorrow". The best way to ensure an improved consciousness among the citizens of tomorrow is to train the children of today. This means that if children are made aware of their collective responsibility towards the environment, they will be quite a force in ensuring that there is a more peaceful and balanced world in the future.

Schoolteachers are the best equipped to train children and realizing this, HOPE (the environment arm of Rotary Club of Thane) has organized a free half-day workshop for teachers from secondary schools of Thane & Dombivli. HOPE has invited schools to depute one or two staff teachers to participate in this workshop, which will address environment and wildlife related issues. The primary objective of the workshop is to guide teachers about the methods of motivating the youth and children of today towards environment awareness.

Teachers can expect to learn about the diverse wildlife forms of India and the problems they face, methods of communicating the messages of conservation, crisis of creatures such as bears, tigers, display/performing animals (circus animals) etc.

The workshop is open to all and interested readers may also attend. It will be held on November 03, 2001 between 3 pm and 7 pm at Sahyog Mandir, 2nd Floor, Ghantali, Thane (West).